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Kevin Krock, editor
DVD Review
Charlotte's Web
(1972) | Approx. 94 Minutes | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value

The Movie

Most children of the 1970s probably remember Charlotte’s Web and its touching story of friendship between Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider. Adapted by the Hanna- Barbera animation studios from E.B. White’s popular children’s book, the story follows Wilbur as he learns about love, loyalty, friendship, life, and death from his best friend, Charlotte. It’s a great story that runs the gamut of emotions that we all experience. And in some cases, the movie presents these emotions, such as the fear of death, with a refreshing bluntness not seen in many contemporary family films.

One aspect of the film that I had forgotten about was the music by the Sherman Brothers. In one of their first post-Disney feature films, the brothers continued their recognizable brand of toe-tapping, rhyme-laden tunes. The only shortcoming I noticed is that the music feels like the brothers were on autopilot for most of the film, and adults may recognize many familiar patterns of music that make up the Sherman Brothers’ successful, yet predictable, formula. For kids though, they’ll love most of the music.

I also have to comment on the film’s animation style. I was a bit surprised at the simplistic and, in some cases, cheap production values of this film. I realize that Hanna-Barbara is best known for Saturday morning cartoons than for feature animation, but this film generally feels like a long cartoon rather than an animated theatrical release. The biggest animation disappointments are the very flat backgrounds and lifeless character animation. For example, the adult male humans reminded me of an “evil theme park owner” in a Scooby-Doo episode. Their faces are drawn with very thick, angular lines and their movements are less than fluid. As an adult, the animation was almost more of a distraction than a storytelling tool, but admittedly, most kids probably wouldn’t be fazed by the animation quality.

The Goodies...

Unfortunately, the only extras on this disc are a poor quality theatrical trailer and a “Meet the Animals” game. The game lets you select one of the film’s farm animals to hear its sound and to read a short description of it. It’s disappointing that there isn’t any other material, such as a production photo / drawing gallery, and it makes the justification for buying the DVD over the VHS tape more difficult.

The Video, Audio and Interface...

Keeping in mind that this movie is just about 30 years old and the transfer was not remastered or restored, I wasn’t really expecting a visually stunning film. Unfortunately, I was surprised at how poor some of the scenes looked. Film damage, such as scratches and dust, are apparent throughout the movie, and the anamorphic transfer does nothing to improve the situation — in fact, the problem is exacerbated on widescreen TVs. For example, one whole scene has a film scratch that runs the entire vertical length of the frame, and which vanishes when the scene changes. Additionally, the character animation looks almost incomplete, with dark splotches randomly appearing on faces, bodies, etc. These problems, combined with its distracting style of animation, may make this disc a difficult watch for those folks and kids accustomed to DVDs with slick, remastered video transfers.

The audio is also somewhat of a disappointment in that it is a simple Dolby Digital 1.0 (mono) soundtrack. While the music and vocals are clear and free of audio snaps and pops, the music feels flat and constrained. So many old musical movies have had wonderful audio makeovers by remastering the audio into a surround soundtrack. The reasons for not doing anything to this movie before transferring it to DVD are a mystery to me, but this is one film that could have used a little technological boost to bring it up to par with many older animated films.

Of all of the features on the disc, the interface is probably the most pleasing. After watching a brief, forced Paramount disclaimer, an animated screen appears that develops into a web that plays a few audio and video clips from the movie. All other menus on the disc are static, but all are accompanied by musical selections from the movie. Because of the lack of bonus material, the menus are very easy to navigate, and just about any family member should be able to move around the disc without trouble.

The Final Evaluation

I do like this story a lot, and I think it has a good message intertwined with characters that kids can sympathize with. It’s the execution and presentation that seem to get in the way of enjoying this movie and disc from an adult perspective. Kids will probably enjoy the animals, the music and the animation, but as a parent or reminiscing adult, justifying the purchase of the DVD over the VHS copy is a bit difficult. Had the disc provided improved video, audio, or bonus material well beyond that available on VHS, it would be a no-brainer. With this release, though, you may be better off holding on to that old tape for a while.


Publicity art © Paramount Pictures

DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • Theatrical trailer
  • "Meet the Animals" set-top guessing game

Technical Specifications

anamorphicdvd.gif (2563 bytes)

  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • French (Dolby Digital 1.0 Surround)
  • 15 chapters
  • English subtitles
  • Widescreen anamorphic - 1.85:1
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